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Rice gets Grand Challenges Explorations support

2012-11-01

A Rice University professor will continue to research needle-free microscopy for malaria diagnosis with Phase II funding from Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables individuals worldwide to test bold ideas to address persistent health and development challenges.   

"Malaria causes an estimated 655,000 deaths each year," said Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Rice's Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering and director of Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies. "Our goal is to develop an inexpensive, battery-powered microscope that can detect the malaria parasite at the point of care, without drawing blood. Our hope is that this device will improve malaria diagnosis and treatment in low-resource settings, which may not have access to trained technicians consumables, or other infrastructure necessary for an accurate diagnosis."    

In 2009, Richards-Kortum was awarded a Phase I grant for the program. Challenges Explorations (GCE) Phase I recognizes individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and most persistent global health and development challenges. GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to solve the problems people in the developing world face every day. Phase II recognizes those ideas that have made significant progress toward implementation.  

Richards-Kortum's project is one of the Phase II Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced today.    

"Investments in innovative global health research are already paying off," said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We’re excited that we consistently receive so many surprising ideas from around the world and that we’re able to provide a second round of funding for some of the most unconventional among them."

Currently, detecting malaria means taking a patient's blood, staining it and analyzing it under a microscope to see if the person is infected. The Rice technique would require no taking of blood, would produce no biohazardous waste and wouldn't require trained personnel to either administer the test or read the results. The portable device would peer through a patient's skin at superficial blood vessels. It would light up blood cells flowing through the vessels, read and analyze light reflected back and immediately deliver a diagnosis. Red blood cells carrying malaria parasites would show up under the influence of a topical stain applied to the skin before reading.   

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, more than 700 people in 45 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10, be accepted through Nov. 7.